We are working on Ivan and hoping to have a pre-order up once we know how our schedule and our editor’s will mesh this time around. But in the meantime, you can sign up for a release day alert here.
In the meantime, enjoy this (unedited!) excerpt that takes place at the Reyes estate during the summer festival. Ivan and Maricela have navigated a hedge maze to the fountain at the center.
* * *
The music from the party was a soft, distant hum. The voices had faded away completely. It was peaceful here, with the gentle music of water over stone and the wind through the leaves on the hedges and nothing but the clean smell of earth and plants and nature.
Maricela belonged in a place like this. Outside, under the stars. Not trapped in her house, or stuck between swaggering suitors who leaned too close and whispered constant invitations she had to pretend not to understand.
The breeze tugged at the ends of her long hair, tossing it across her face, and his fingers itched to smooth it back into place. Before he could give into temptation, she reached up and tucked the rogue strand behind her ear.
The silence between them wasn’t comfortable. It was charged, her last words hanging there like a tense challenge. “We can’t be lovers,” he said softly, a reminder as much for himself as for her. “But we can be friends.”
“Yes.” She smiled, and the tension dissolved. “What did you think of the dinner?”
A lifetime of habit almost had him locking down his reaction, as was proper in the presence of a Rios. But the word friend hovered in the air still, so he reacted like he would have to a Rider.
He rolled his eyes.
Her laughter rang through the small courtyard. “I’ll have you know, that was some of the finest seafood money can’t buy. Didn’t you notice the Petrov heir at our table? The one who wasn’t being a creep?” She sank to one of the benches. “I’m sure that’s how Estela got her hands on enough lobster to feed fifty people.”
“Alexei Petrov?” He straddled the opposite side of the bench so he could keep an eye on her and keep the maze entrance in his peripheral vision. “So that’s how the seating arrangement works? People bribe Estela Reyes to get close to you?”
“That’s how this whole week works.” She ticked the list off on her fingers matter-of-factly. “Basic line of sight, that’s cheap. But you have to pony up if you want your son or daughter seated next to me at a meal or concert. And don’t even ask how much it costs to get them a room assignment near mine.”
Disgust at the sheer awfulness of it all rose, and Ivan didn’t try to hide it. “They better not think they’re getting into your room without an invitation.”
“Oh, no. Never. It’s not about force.” She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “It’s about access. The opportunity to influence. The same thing happens to Gideon and Isabela, for different reasons. Hell, Deacon and Ana weren’t shoved at a table in the corner with the rest of the Riders who don’t come from noble families, were they?”
He thought back, summoning the placement of the various Riders from memory. He’d expected Gabe, Hunter and Reyes to be seated prominently, but Deacon had been at a table next to the West matriarch, and Ana had been tucked between Gabe’s parents. “Because Ana’s father’s going to be sainted?”
“Maybe,” Maricela allowed. “William belonged to the Riders, but I’m not sure it matters. We talk about how your families give you up when you take your vows, but those ties never really seem to die. Not on a gut level.”
No, they didn’t. Not the ties to the saints. Not the ties to the traitors. In his life, Ivan had faced both–younger people who begged him to ask his father for a special blessing, and older people who eyed him with an air of wariness, no doubt remembering the havoc and pain his uncles had wrought on their beloved royal family.
“It’s complicated,” he murmured. And normally that would have been all he said, all he cared to say, but talking to Maricela was…easy, somehow. “There’s only just the two of us, you know. Me and Ana. And Gideon hadn’t even officially formed the Riders before my father died. We don’t fit into the rules and customs. So people see us how they want to see us.”
“How do they see you?”
The marble bench had a tiny crack along one side. Ivan traced it with his thumb. “All I ever wanted to be was a Rider. But when I first showed up to a trial, people were furious. They didn’t want a traitor’s nephew in Gideon’s inner circle. It had been more than ten years, but that’s all they saw when they looked at me. Bad blood.”
She sucked in a breath. “That’s horrible.”
It hadn’t felt horrible. It had felt deserved, a guilt he’d internalized after years of lessons from his mother, who had never forgiven herself for not seeing what was happening all around her.
“Your cousin is the one who stepped up for me. Mad. Even though my uncles had kidnapped him and killed his parents, he stood up for me. No one was willing to fight with him over it.” Ivan shrugged and glanced up at her. “Becoming a Rider means your family is supposed to give you up. It doesn’t mean the Sector will let you to give up your family. Just ask Reyes, or Gabe or Hunter.”
“That’s true.” Her stormy expression cleared as she patted his hand. “I’m glad you were able to find your way.”
Her fingertips burned over his skin, and she didn’t even realize. If being friends meant Maricela planned to shower him with sweet, oblivious touches, he’d drastically miscalculated.
This was torture.
He tensed the muscles in his body, consciously exerting control. He had to find a way to go back to before she’d tilted their world on its side. He couldn’t imagine Maricela’s husky murmur to use your tongue and think of just how easy it would be here.
He could stretch her back on the bench and coax her dress up her long legs. Use his tongue anywhere and everywhere until her hoarse cries drowned out the sound of the fountain and the stars were dancing above her.
He could take care of her.
He could go to hell.